Wisconsin hit by 18 tornadoes

Saturday, August 20, 2005

In Stoughton, a tornado left a 12-mile-long, half-mile-wide path.

STOUGHTON, Wis. -- Emerging from her basement, Connie Janisch saw destruction all around her.

One of more than a dozen tornadoes to hit the state Thursday night had ripped through the neighborhood, destroying homes and dumping remnants of three other roofs in her yard. Then she considered what could have been.

"It was like God put a protective shield around us," she said Friday.

Meteorologists believe 18 tornadoes touched down Thursday night in an area almost 100 miles long. The state normally averages 21 tornadoes in an entire year, according to the National Weather Service.

One man was killed when his home near Stoughton collapsed during the storm, and about three dozen people were treated at hospitals for injuries. In all, about 30 homes were destroyed and more than 200 damaged.

"It's just difficult to grasp how powerful this storm was. The damage is just really beyond comprehension," Gov. Jim Doyle said after touring the area by helicopter.

State officials estimated the damage statewide at more than $11 million.

Doyle declared a state of emergency Friday in Dane and Richland counties, the two hardest hit, offering $30,000 in emergency assistance and temporary shelter.

In Stoughton, a tornado left a 12-mile-long, half-mile-wide path. Preliminary reports suggested its winds reached more than 200 mph. The storm was so strong, roof shingles, papers and other debris were found in the Milwaukee area, 60 miles away.

Residents in the hardest-hit areas had to get authorization to return to their homes Friday morning.

One of the most devastated areas was a neighborhood of new homes lining the Stoughton Country Club. Some homes still standing Friday had lost their roofs; others were nothing more than piles of debris.

The storms also caused extensive damage in the village of Viola, about 80 miles northwest of Madison. Trees were sheared off at 90-degree angles and more than 100 homes were damaged before the storm swept eastward.

Phil Stittleburg, the fire chief from nearby La Farge who oversaw cleanup efforts, said the community was fortunate that only one person was hurt -- a sheriff's deputy who crashed his squad car while responding to emergency calls.

Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Viola and JR Ross in Madison contributed to this report.

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